Single Play (Week of 3/4/13)
Here we go with another week of new(ish) music on “Single Play.” In this day and age, there’s so much music that’s available to us from our desktop computers, phones, tablets, and laptops, that it can be overwhelming at times. Radio, which used to be the place most of us heard new music, is very quite resistant to breaking new artists (“Why take the chance?” seems to be their motto). The Internet, however, is quite the opposite place. Here, we’re awash in music from the sublime to utter crap. But in a way, it’s all presented more or less without any kind of hierarchy. Radio and MTV (well, those MTV channels that do play videos) are the closed walls of programming clocks, commercial breaks, fancy-pants promotions and all the trickery to get you to watch or listen longer to their carefully selected group of artists approved for airplay. The Internet, however, has elements of a public space where everyone (well, those who pay to have access to the space) can try and get the attention of others just by being “out there” — and hyping yourself on Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Vevo, YouTube, blah, blah, blah…
Some folks love the freedom of choice, while others find it too much to take in and, perhaps, retreat into a cocoon of comfort music that’s familiar. Me? I fall somewhere into the middle. I do love listening to new music, love the choice the Internet offers, but will also retreat to more familiar notes and voices that I became aware of back in my salad days. What does this have to do with this week’s “Single Play?” I suppose the theme (if one can be found) is “familiar and new.” An artist like David Bowie is certainly familiar, but the sound of his latest single may strike listeners as “new territory.” Then there’s Anna Lena & the Orchids — who are newer group, but perhaps their sound will strike one as familiar. Whatever the case, have a listen, let me know what you think in the comments. And if you’d like to suggest music I should be listening to, please feel free to drop that into the comment section as well.
Beth Hart, “Bang Bang Boom Boom”
This jaunty number has a real vintage feel to it. Perhaps the same way that Adele, Amy Winehouse, and others with that “sound” evoke a voice from another time. Beth Hart, however, is someone from another time who has transformed herself from her Adult Contemporary beginnings of “L.A. Song (Out Of This Town),” into a more throwback sound of a certain genre of ’60s pop. Hart has had a number of non-U.S. hits, has been through a kind of rock star crash and burn period with drug and alcohol abuse, and is now making waves with her new single, “Bang Bang Boom Boom.” It has an instantly likable feel with a piano-heavy driving beat…and then there’s Hart’s voice. Weathered, but not worn, her pipes have power, maturity, and character; something that’s not really heard in today’s music.
Anna Lena & The Orchids, “View of My Sanity”
If you’re a fan of music that’s more trippy, delicate, and atmospheric (think Bjork and Massive Attack having baby), then you’ll enjoy Anna Lena & The Orchids. Wearing a kind Bristol sound proudly on their sleeve, the band has folded trip hop elements into their music, but have done so in a less dense way. The result is a more mainstream sound with a underbelly of tension. There’s nothing atonal, experimental, or just plain weird about “View of My Sanity.” It’s a solid single that’ll appeal to those looking for a chill sound to their daily soundtrack.
The quote included in the press release for HEM was from NPR — which called the album “achingly gorgeous.” Huh? Well, “Tourniquet” is a pleasant song that has a very calming effect on one’s ears (much like Chamomile tea is supposed to help you relax). Sally Ellyson’s voice is gorgeous, but I don’t get an ache in my heart or in the pit of my stomach when listening to her sing. Maybe it’s because of my heartless disposition, but maybe it’s my aversion to such descriptions of music. However, don’t let my issues with other critics get in the way of enjoying “Tourniquet.” This Brooklyn-based group has a soft and quiet sound that’s ethereal — but the lyrics certainly reveal the dynamics of the city. The album (their first in six years) is replete with hushed, almost meditative songs that has hints of Cowboy Junkies when they first started.
Talk about a hiatus…and a surprise! Many weren’t sure if Bowie would hang up the personas he’s cultivated over the course of his career and call it a day. His heart attack in ’04 and subsequent low profile he kept for almost a decade made many wonder if he had anything left to say, musically speaking. Indeed, Bowie may have had his own doubt as well. But whatever sparked his desire to record music again, many are grateful for the return. My initial reaction to “The Stars (Are Out At Night)” was a kind of muted disappointment. Upon the first listen, I wasn’t hearing any hooks, and that disappointed me — but I kept kind of quiet about it. However, the more I heard the song, the more I came to like it. There’s certainly a reflective quality to the lyrics, and the album as a whole sounds very much like Bowie looking back to a time when his music had evolved into his Brian Eno influenced period. Hell, just look at the way he papered over the cover of Heroes signals part of his intent. Whether this is Bowie’s coda or not is up in the air. But if this the album that bookends his career, he has chosen to go out with a carefully constructed record that doesn’t bow to current trends, resort to studio trickery, or stack the deck with contemporary artists to give his sound a kind of face lift. Instead, he’s made it his way and has dropped the album on the culture with a kind of “There. Take it as it is.” For a man who has made a career out of creating new personalities, I think fans like me are loving Bowie’s new persona: authenticity.